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Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Chicago April 10th 1977


Concert Memories :: Led Zeppelin :: April 10, 1977

The final night of Zeppelin’s stay in Chicago lands on Easter Sunday, 4/10/77. As a good Catholic boy I attend mass Sunday morning. I had witnessed Jimmy Page fall ill just hours before , which led to the cancellation of Zeppelin’s Saturday concert.. What a dichotomy! I spend my prayer time wondering if Jimmy will make it for tonight’s show. The extra Hail Mary’s pay off as the news is Jimmy’s fit and ready to play.

Saving the best for last, my seats this evening are Box seats 1st row, even with 18th row Main Floor. Because of our seats, a friend of ours lent us his 8mm film camera. The footage that exists of that night was shot by us. As we go to our seats I revel in our good fortune to be so close. The only drawback is that there are a couple disco boys next to us who seem ill-at-ease.

The show begins promptly by Zeppelin standards. The weather has warmed up and so has the playing. It’s evident the minute it goes dark and a mixture of euphoria and flashbulbs engulf the Chicago Stadium. The initial spotlight pinpoints Robert, but astride him is Page in a dark outfit. One note introduces The Song Remains The Same and a blast of light and sound jolt you with every chord accent. My God Almighty! Jimmy Page is dressed in Nazi regalia. Jack boots up to his knees, peaked cap ,black shirt and pants, white scarf, sunglasses and a smoke. Too Fucking much! Happy Easter Jimmy! On top of that he was playing like a demon. All the breaks are executed with conviction. The Rover is spot on leading into Sick Again. Bonzo hammers it out against Page’s slurred and bluesy overbends.

Robert mentions Saturday’s fiasco stating ” Jimmy was rather ill last night. It was only a false pregnancy.” Nobody’s Fault But Mine features a fine harmonica solo by Plant which is similar to the Presence version. I’m very close to Jimmy and with the apparel he’s wearing tonight his guitar does resemble a machine gun. Especially during his rapid-fire and galvanizing solo. As I observe Jimmy’s physique, I notice his arms are bone- thin. Against his black outfit he appeared ghoulishly pale.

In My Time Of Dying is added back to the set tonight and it really kicks ass! I see Jimmy dig into his pants pocket to retrieve his slide and is brought out his Danelectro. Robert treats us to some Chicago blues history before the song’s start. Zeppelin really gel on this one tonight. Jones and Bonham work like a machine, providing the muscle. Robert and Jimmy flying high outfront!

Robert lauds Willie Dixon to the fan’s puzzlement. Most not knowing who the hell he is. Page plays a mesmerizing version of Since I’ve Been Loving You in honor of his blues forefathers. Sheets of notes blend with sustained cries. Yes Sir!

Dry ice billows from the front of the stage as Jonesy does his thing to initiate No Quarter. Wah-Wah and kick drum, Page and Bonham put the pedal to the metal. Robert is spartan in his phrasing and clear, singing powerfully. As JPJ switches to the piano, Page unleashes an enormous tidal wave of sound from his theramin! Jonesy plays a refined and tasty sounding solo, which leads into a rock and roll 50’s boogie with Jimmy and Bonzo. Pagey has reappeared from the shadows donning a white fedora. One minute he’s in the SS, the next in the Mafia. The guy understands theater.The main improv begins and there’s a languid soulfullness to the feel of it, until Jimmy charges it up with some fast and flash playing which leads to Page breaking his high E strung. Jimmy throws up both hands in disgust, taking a second to regroup and proceded to play a totally different solo. Great playing Jimmy! A series of viscious wah wah licks conclude the song.

Robert speaks of light and shade in describing the reasons for including Ten Years Gone in their current set list. Plant praises JPJ’s versatility in playing guitar and bass foot pedals simultaneously. Page’s shimmering notes cut across everything. He is really making amends for last night. Sweeping and beautiful in it’s construction and presentation. A Supreme highlight

. As the band head to the front for the acoustic routine, Robert derides the local rock radio station for accusing Page of being too wasted to play on Saturday. Covering for Jimmy he states, ” Jimmy doesn’t drink, smoke or take women while on tour. So an apology would be nice with a crate of the same alcohol!’ Battle of Evermore is played splendily with dynamism. Going To California provides a soothing and calming effect. And it sounds great too! The acoustic set really emphasizes Robert’s abilities.

Robert keeps hinting at Elvis Presley’s Surrender. Not tonight. Black Country Woman revs up the crowd and Robert puts on a railroad engineer’s cap that a fan has thrown on stage. Page leads the band into his acoustic tour-de-force Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp. With fingers flying and thumb-pick rolling Page plays a gem of a solo. Robert shouts ” Strider! ” to wrap it up.

Without introduction JPJ plunks out the opening clavinet lick of Trampled Under Foot. It had been played opening night as an encore. But tonight, it’s very effective after the subtler acoustic segment. This song is rip-roaring rock and roll. I love it as Page marches around in lockstep with Bonzo’s drum madness! Multi-colored light beams spinning upward from a rotating device behind Jonesy. The middle section features Jimmy in guitar god mode. Sound, structure and intensity meld as one. The peak is attained as Page and Plant perform their Push! Push! climax. This is my personal highlight of the concert.

The exotic White Summer changes the mood entirely. Hunched over his wooden chair, Jimmy seduces clean and resonant melodies from his black and white Danelectro. I now knew Kashmir was next. Page played his cue and turned back at Bonham. Right as Kashmir began Jimmy stood up and kicked his chair back with the heal of his boot. Kashmir sounded so immense and was pure magic, played without error.

Robert comments about how good it’s sounding tonight and contributes it to ” the hats we’ve been wearing!” Over the Top has Robert referring to Bonham as ” The man I call my Brother.” John Bonham never failed to deliver the goods and the same could be said tonight. He tore into it with passion and fury, never losing the crowd. What a gifted musician.

After the drum solo Page reappears in his white satin poppy suit. To the cleaners with the SS gear! Jimmy’s harmonized sound experiments and theramin swoops lead into a edgy and creepy violin bow spectacle. Being so close to Page in his swirling laser pyramid gave you a palpable chill. He had shredded the horsehair off his bow. The image of Page dredging up otherworldly shrieks while Bonzo pummeled his tympani is unforgettable. To myself I had privately hoped they would launch into Dazed and Confused. But as the set had already been established it was again Achilles Last Stand. It sounded tighter and more assured this evening. Nice improvement.

Stairway To Heaven finishes the main set. It is given a heartfelt rendering and is enjoyed thoroughly by the crowd. Page’s Spanish guitar influence is apparent in his solo. Bonzo and Jonesy keep driving it mantra -like. Robert leads the song to it’s conclusion. The band members walk out front and acknowledge the crowd before going backstage. The wait for their return was long. I could tell the crowd was getting a little restless and some were leaving.

Now becoming routine, the encore was again Rock and Roll. Explosions and light flashes were strategically employed. The sound of this version is loud and nasty. A fitting conclusion. One last blast of drum rolls from Bonzo , a final crashing guitar chord and that was it . All over. As they left the stage that night it would be my final glimpse at Led Zeppelin.

I gratefully thank Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham for enhancing my life and so many others in this world. God Bless You.

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Chicago April 10th 1977 | , | Leave a comment

Genesis The Steam Of The Medley (Omaha, February 1984)


Civic Auditorium Arena, Omaha, NE – February 3rd, 1984

Disc 1 (70:52): Dodo / Lurker, Abacab, That’s All, Mama, Medley (The Eleventh Earl of Mar / The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway / Firth Of Fifth / The Musical Box), Phil Talking, Illegal Alien, Home By The Sea, Second Home By The Sea
Disc 2 (70:42): Man On The Corner, Keep It Dark, It’s Gonna Get Better, Follow You Follow Me, Phil Talking, In The Cage featuring The Cinema Show / The Colony of Slippermen, Afterglow, Drum Duet / Los Endos, Misunderstanding, Turn It On Again

After Genesis was released in October 1983, Genesis limited their tour schedule to dates only in the US, Canada, and Birmingham, England. Close to the end the band played their first ever show in Omaha, Nebraska, at the Civic Auditorium. The Steam Of The Medley presents the complete show in very good to borderline excellent sound quality. The first ten minutes of the tape are quite distorted, but it cleans up nicely. There are two cuts in “Follow You, Follow Me”.

Not many bootlegs derive from shows in Nebraska for some reason, so this is an odd choice for a silver. Highland chose it because besides being another fun show on the short tour, it was the final time the band played “Man On The Corner” live.

On the Genesis Movement website, kaspergm writes “As the show memory below says, last ever performance of ‘Man On The Corner.’ However, the occurrence of ‘Man On The Corner’ on this bootleg is suspicious as neither ‘Man On The Corner’ nor ‘Who Dunnit?’ were played on any of the nights after January 10. [A claim that isn’t true – ‘Man On The Corner’ was a regular inclusion in the set up until the January 21st show in Dallas]. I would not be surprised if ‘Man On The Corner’ in this recording was cut in from another show – it would not be the first time Highland did this – but I have not been bothered to dig out the discs I have, somewhere, to check on this – don’t know if anybody ever gave any thought to this.”

“Man On The Corner” certainly sounds genuine. It is in the same sound quality as the rest of the tape and there are not cuts at the end. (In fact, the first four songs on disc two run together with no pause).
Keeping their habit of starting the show with the previous album’s hits, they begin with “Dodo / Lurker” and “Abacab,” the two epics from Abacab. Phil Collins greets the audience, “Good evening Omaha! Good evening Nebraska in general. Well this is the first time we’ve come to this neck of the woods” and tell them that “we’re gonna be here for a couple of hours, until the drugs wear off.”

“Mama,” complete with Collins’ spitting and groaning, is the first of the new songs to be played and the most abrasive. Not prog and not pop, it’s in a Genesis category of its own and thankfully doesn’t set the tone of the entire show.

The first “old medley” starts off with the opening fanfare of “The Eleventh Earl Of Mar” which segues into “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway,” the instrumental portion of “Firth Of Fifth” and the final “old man’s lament” of “The Musical Box.”

Before “Illegal Alien” Collins jokes about Oklahoma steaks being better than Omaha steaks. ”How quickly they turn on you” he jokes when the audience let out the expected boos. He continues with the fugitives from justice bit and plays the group radio, playing snatches of Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon ” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Yes’ “Owner Of A Lonely Heart.” The roadies join the band onstage for the “roadie choir,” adding their voices to the infectious (and silly) chorus.

As stated above “Man On The Corner” was a regular number in the show up until the Dallas show on January 24th. It was dropped afterwards, but added again in Omaha and played for the final time live. After “Follow You, Follow Me” Collins introduces the second medley of the night. The “In The Cage” oldies set is lifted straight from the Encore tour two years before as is the final drum duet and “Los Endos.”
“Misunderstanding” is the first encore and “Turn It On Again” closes the show. The latter contains a long medley of classics including “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love,” “Pinball Wizard” and “The Midnight Hour.” Genesis would retain a medley in this song in later tours.

The Steam Of The Medley was produced in 1999 by Highland and is one of their classic releases. They use several dramatic live shots for the artwork including the cover with the band’s famous light show and a shot inside of Phil addressing the audience from behind the stage. Not only is Omaha a great show, but the odd location of the concert and the excellent sound quality make this one worth having.

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Genesis The Steam Of The Medley | , | Leave a comment

Mike Rutherford Smallcreep’s Day (1980)


In the beginning of 1979 the world looked rather ambiguous for Genesis. On the one hand they were enjoying a major international success with their first album as a three-piece, …And Then There Were Three… and the accompanying single Follow You Follow Me. Phil’s marriage, on the other hand, was about to collapse and brought all band activities to a halt. Genesis had not planned a new album for 1979. Phil went to Vancouver to save what could not be saved anymore. Tony and Mike were at home with lots of time on their hands, time both decided to use creatively.

Mike Rutherford Smallcreep’s Day Mike’s first solo album would not become a long-term commercial success but a cult record for the hardcore fans. Smallcreep’s Day sounds very different from his later band project Mike + The Mechanics. It is rather a lost son of Duke, and when you listen to the music there is no mistaking which band Mike plays in. It is authentic Genesis, but it contains no rehash but high-quality music. Smallcreep’s Day can actually be called a concept album. It tells the story of a factory worker who does his work every day without actually ever realizing what kind of product he helps to manufacture. He embarks on a journey of discovery into the factory and into himself, into his life, and meets lots of interesting people and new emotions. The story is inspired by Peter Currell Brown’s book of the same title that came out in 1965.

How well is the story turned into music? Mike managed to enlist some choice musicians that helped his first solo album float. The songs he wrote himself. David Hentschel was the producer and sound engineer, and he made sure that the reliable dry and bassy Genesis sound graced Smallcreep’s Day. Noel McCalla, Simon Philips and Mike’s old friend Anthony Phillips also found their way to Stockholm’s Polar studios.

A couple of words about the musicians. Simon Collins was the drummer. His work can be admired on countless records; artists like Mick Jagger, Mike Oldfield, Joe Satriani or Jeff Beck hired his service. He also drummed on I Have The Touch on Peter Gabriel’s Shaking The Tree sampler. In 1979 Mike asked him to work on his first solo record. Says Simon: “Mike is an English gentleman in the true sense of the word. I seem to remember him being open to any suggestion and really it was down to arrangement as opposed to what I should play – in other words I played what I felt was right for the song. I do remember using Tama’s first synth drums which had little triggers that I stuck to the snare drum and basically did what syndrums did – very fashionable at the time but did not last with me though!” His slightly jazzy style seems a bit agitated and even hectic in places, but certainly brings life into the music. The drums have quite a presence in the mix without dominating it the way it does on Genesis and Collins solo albums.

Noel McCalla became the voice of the album. “Noel who?” He has been the singer in Manfred Mann’s Earth Band for several years. His voice is very soulful and McCalla interprets the songs on Smallcreep’s Day with feeling and the necessary vocal range.

The parts of guitarist and bassist were taken by Mike Rutherford himself – he knows that job very well. They always say that Rutherford cannot play. Though many guitarists expand their technique and speed up their playing over the years it seems as if Mike had taken a deceleration course. The older he grows the slower, calmer and lamer his style became. On all the records that would follow his guitar playing would grow less and less (and less and less exciting) – but for Smallcreep’s Day he seems to have told himself: “My record, my mistakes. If I mess this up, nobody will bother, it is ‘only’ my record.” Never before and never again did Mike play longer solos (Second Home By The Sea and Abacab excepted) or play his guitars in such a creative way.

So there is only one free slot. Mike brought in his old friend Ant Phillips to play the keyboards. Ta-daa: Two fifths of Genesis on one album, and don’t you hear it!

Let’s go. Side one, track one. The album begins with a bit of pseudo-prog; a repetitive keyboard melody prepares Noel’s first words „It’s so very dark in here“. And still you feel quite at home hearing this. Between The Tick & The Tock is a calm, atmospheric entrance to the album. The anticipation grows.

Merrily on: Working In Line, Mike’s first single, begins with strummed guitars and fidgety drums while the bass seems to mutter something. The song would not be much better than okay were it not for the superb instrumental. These are some fast fingers that touch the strings. Is this a glimpse at more to come? Working In Line fades out and gentle strings lead us unto the next track which is much more sedate and not at all as lively as the previous one.

It is actually only an intro to Cats And Rats (In This Neighbourhood) – and the beginning resembles Back In N.Y.C. or The Colony Of Slippermen in a way. The reviewer actually went back to the list of musicians to check if Tony Banks was secretly playing on this song. Or did Ant borrow his equipment? The song would not have sounded out of place on The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, and so it does not matter much that the next piece is another intro… or was it still the outro? Who cares, because now the big guns appear. The song that follows is a, if not –the- highlight in Mike’s musical creativity.

Out Into The Daylight is an entertaining instrumental dominated by guitars and full of keyboard melodies hunting each other. It begins with lots of riffing and rumbling drums before the first melodies come in and this swiftly flowing track develops. Mike delivers his best guitar solo ever – full of ideas and variation. He is admittedly no guitar genius, but he has a sophisticated way of playing out his ideas. Who would have expected that from him? It is, however, a pity that something this beautiful and exciting is hiding on a more or less unknown album only die-hard fans listen to. If Mike had saved this thrilling instrumental for Duke that album would have been even better – and maybe this would have happened: Out Into The Daylight inherits the position of Firth Of Fifth in concert and Mike steps out of Steve Hackett’s shadow – who knows? Who knows whether Daryl Stuermer would play this song today … but that’s another story.

At The End Of The Day closes the first half of the album. After a fairly schmaltzy start this turns into a wonderfully romantic song with a brief guitar solo. The song sits quite on the fence between kitsch and art.

The second half of the album consists of individual tracks, so the songs do not blend into the others as in the first half. It begins with an up-tempo track with lots of bass called Moonshine. Bombastic keyboard cascades remind one of Behind The Lines.

The early chords of Time And Again sound familiar, they do resemble Many Too Many. The chorus breaks out of the melancholy into some optimism. Perhaps one of the slightly weaker songs, but sung very pleasantly by Noel, and if Phil Collins had sung this there would have been a chance that this could have become a hit. The middle section has a nice brief solo by Mike. He doesn’t do things half.

Romani is tricky. The keyboards play a slow warbling into, then a new keyboard melody rises to the fore and the song reveals its real face. Interesting vocals and rhythmic niceties like frequent changes in signatures and speed make it particularly enjoyable. Two contrary melodies were wrapped in one song – this is typical Rutherford songwriting, and it sounds clever and at ease.

Calmly and happily we enter Every Road. The song is carried mainly by the acoustic guitar. It sounds like a symbiosis of Over My Shoulder and Open Door and spreads good vibrations along the way.

Overnight Job is harder again. Dynamics are what made Genesis so good, and it does not hurt Mike’s solo record at all either. The music is just bursting with liveliness. In the middle the song changes directions completely and proves yet again that one of Mike’s strengths lies in writing strong, catchy riffs. Lovely moments and happy faces at the end.

What remains is the impression that this is an album by Genesis under an assumed name. That is, of course, no problem. It is remarkable and at the same time very pleasant to see how intense an influence Mike has had on the typical Genesis sound from 1978 onwards. A larger variety of instruments was used on Smallcreep’s Day than on Tony’s first solo album, which avoids the album being swamped by one instrument. One never has the impression that something was missing that could have made it sound even better. Despite all the references to and parallels with Genesis (and particularly the Duke album) one it not tempted to miss Phil or Tony. It seems, in fact, that this album was very important to Mike, and you can hear that it is all of a piece. He brought all his strength and many interesting song ideas to it. If he had saved them for Genesis Duke might have become a double album. As it is now, Smallcreep’s Day stands for itself: a timeless gem, an interesting aspect of his solo work – and a masterpiece by underestimated song-writer genius who always stood in the shadows of Tony and Phil.

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Mike Rutherford Smallcreep's Day | , | Leave a comment

Randy California Kapt. Kopter and the (Fabulous) Twirly Birds (1972)


Review If you’re here, then you know. Just pull out your credit card while you read this.

First, the Jimi thing. Randy California may have influenced him, rather than vice versa. In “Jimi Hendrix Electric Gypsy”, we read about how a young California runaway played in a band with Hendrix for a little while. His name was Randy Wolfe. Since there were two Randy’s in the band, Jimi called them Randy Texas and Randy California.

The latter went on to form Spirit with Ed Cassidy. Shortly after Jimi’s death, Randy C. turned solo, letting his guitar playing burn more than it had in the jazzier Spirit.

His first solo album, “Kaptain Kopter and the Fabulous Twirly Birds”, is as devout a testament to Hendrix’s music as has ever been waxed. Mind you, it isn’t a _great_ album. Randy never did get very good at being a front-man. And the crew obviously toked up and decided to fiddle with every dial on the mixing board, not always to enjoyable effect. In fact, much of the album sounds like it’s being played through blown tweeters–the joke being that they’ll save us the trouble, I suppose. But check out his cover of “Day Tripper.”

It is very much in the same vein as the Jimi version on the Radio One cd. “Devil” is an affecting acid ballad, I guess you’d call it. “Downer” is a cacophany of guitar noise–heavy, man! “Things Yet To Come” is a long, simple tone poem for bass line and wah-wah, very early 70’s, very groovy, very hard to get out of your head. And he hits an opposite field upper deck home run with another Beatles cover, “Rain”.

It starts off with a silly country-rock riff which gets progressively more manic. This collapses into a hideous laugh, and the song gets in gear, in earnest. California overdubs himself VERY druggy lead, and letting fly with some jimi-ish glissandi, screeching and swooping over the song.

This is the song that the Rolling Stone reviewer was probably thinking of when he called the album a “mega-watt garage bomb.” To make the Hendrix tribute more obvious, Randy brought in Noel Redding to play bass, under the name “Clit McTorius.” One listen to this and you’ll immediately catch velvet pants, fringed leathers, American flag headband, the whole trippy works. The cd has kind of a half-baked feel to it, but the well-done parts are well done indeed. Any chance to buy this out of print cd is to be seized immediately.

Review Musician’s musician and guitarist extraordinaire for Spirit, Randy California and friends outdid themselves for his first solo album, Kapt Kopter and the (Fabulous) Twirly Birds (1972).
Twirly Birds probably flew high over most heads at the time, no doubt one of the reasons it was a one-off. It’s an excursion into “hardest rock” territory similar to Randy Holden’s Population II (1969) and pre-dating Robin Trower’s high-strung second try, Bridge of Sighs (1974).

Twirly Birds is intriguing. Each song is chaotic yet danceable. Layered with his guitars left, right and center, with two drummers at times, weaving twenty-minute-plus jams into five or six minute studio productions, all is as tight as possible without the whole ball of springs flying apart.

Randy’s vocals are impressionistic, sounding like a sly yet strung-out Jimi Hendrix. The three R. California songs trail the Cream however: Devil being Badge; Downer coming off like Crossroads; Rainbow out to out-balls Jack Bruce (“She ain’t no lady or no wife, just a little girl to set me free…”).

Except for these and two bonus songs (of which the instrumental Rebel is the most precious) the rest are covers, rebranded like only Randy California did or could.
No purer cover of the Beatles’ Day Tripper exists. One can imagine the Beatles performing their masterpiece wearing matching suits and grinning throughout, but not so Randy’s version where “taking the easy way out” is no joke.

James Brown’s I Don’t Want Nobody becomes a down-and-dirty rock anthem (“I don’t want nobody to give me nothin’. Open up the door, baby. Let me get it my-self!”), but oh, so, hard-driving, you believe Randy is alpha male heart and soul.

On CD, this 2010 version sounds better than the LP, to be played loud over and over without fatigue. You can search and search elsewhere for a sonic distillation, 80-proof like this one, and come up empty. This was Randy California at his self-produced best, peaking like a rainbow after the breakup of the original Spirit.

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Randy California Kapt. Kopter and the (Fabulous) Twirly Birds | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin II (1969)


Led Zeppelin already had an impressive touring schedule under their belts when they released their sophomore album, Led Zeppelin II. They had completed touring around the UK and the States, but Led Zeppelin II would be the album that would cement them into rock history.

The album was released in October 1969, a mere nine months after their debut, and was recorded and produced in between their hectic touring schedule. The blues influenced quartet took their initial more psychedelic approach and fused it with harder, bluesier rock to create one of the most influential rock albums to date.

“Whole Lotta Love” is one of the band’s biggest, most recognizable songs. Jimmy Page’s opening riff accompanied by John Paul Jones’ bass starts off the album in true hard rock fashion. The other rock of the late 1960s was nothing compared to the heaviness that Page and his band mates were bringing to the forefront. This paired with the wailing vocals of the “golden god” Robert Plant made the track an instant classic. It oozes sex appeal without losing any of its integrity.

“Whole Lotta Love” is followed by “What is and What Should Never Be,” which starts out in a bit of spacey fashion but picks up in the chorus. While it is overall a good song, the lyrics aren’t the strongest. Plant’s delivery is great, but other tracks on the album are superior in lyrical content.

Next up is “The Lemon Song,” the longest and by far the sleaziest track on Led Zeppelin II. The band digs deep into their blues roots for this one and they don’t disappoint. Page’s blues guitar work is gritty and groovy, with the rhythm section following suit. Of course, it wouldn’t be fair not to mention Plant’s stunning vocals. Very few vocalists could take the phallic symbol of a lemon and scream out some of the best blues rock of the 20th century.

Led Zeppelin II also contains two more of the band’s biggest tracks, “Heartbreaker” and “Living Loving Maid.” “Heartbreaker” features another Page riff that is instantly recognizable, while “Living Loving Maid” contains one of the catchiest choruses.

“Ramble On” is one of the album’s best both musically and lyrically. It starts with Page’s soft acoustic playing, with Jones laying down a solid bass in the back. The chorus, however, changes everything with Page, Jones, and drummer extraordinaire John Bonham ripping and playing at full force. Plant’s vocals and song writing are also on full display, with his infamous nods to J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings making an appearance.

When talking about Zeppelin, it also wouldn’t be fair not to mention the genius that is John Bonham. His skills are some of the best the music world has ever seen, which is evident on “Moby Dick.” While some may find the track odd or boring, it truly shows how masterful Bonham was as a percussionist. Whether with his sticks or with his hands, Bonham knew how to make the drums speak and no one did it so powerfully.

The album closes with the blues tune “Bring It On Home,” which seems fitting. Led Zeppelin II was and is some of the heaviest work the band has ever produced and really delves into the dirty blues on which they were raised.

It is very easy to say that this album is some of Zeppelin’s best work. “Whole Lotta Love” has spanned decades and is still a staple on any rock lovers’ playlist. Page’s iconic riff and Plant’s incredible, powerful vocals entrance the listener, keeping the song relevant over 40 years later. “Heartbreaker” and “Living Loving Maid” are other classic, catchy tunes that have stood the test of time.

The band’s longevity cannot be credited to any one member. It must be attributed to the individual talents of Plant, Page, Jones, and Bonham. Each member is a key ingredient that could not be subtracted from the equation. Page’s guitar, Bonham’s drums, Jones’ bass, and Plant’s wail are all individually stunning but sound even better when combined.

While the songwriting developed and expanded over the years, Led Zeppelin II is still a masterful creation from one of the most distinctive bands in all of music history. They crafted a blues based style of rock and made music that is nostalgic but timeless. No one can imitate the mighty Zeppelin…and no one ever will.

Next Steps
Following the release of Led Zeppelin II, Zeppelin continued to tour and build a massive following. In 1970, the band began working on Led Zeppelin III, which was highly influenced by Celtic and folk music. 1971 saw the release of the band’s most notable song, “Stairway to Heaven,” which is said to be the most requested song in rock radio.

After a string of incredibly successful album releases, tragedy struck in 1980. Drummer John Bonham was found dead in his hotel room. The band’s scheduled tour was cancelled and the members decided to part ways.

Since the breakup, the band has reunited at various points over the years, with Bonham’s son Jason filling in on the drums. Their last gig together took place at the O2 arena in 2007.

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Led Zeppelin II | | Leave a comment

Jeff Buckley Grace (1995)


When Jeff Buckley, son of multi-faceted rock artist Tim Buckley, released his first full-length studio LP, Grace, the music world got their first taste of the smooth, melancholic sounds that Buckley would forever be remembered.

Grace offers its listeners ten songs tinged with aching beauty and down-to-earth cynicism. The instrumentation itself isn’t spectacular. The guitars, which alternate between bright clean tones and crunchy, Zeppelin-rock, have a pretty solid, but typical, rock feel to them. Also often present is an acoustic guitar which layers the rest of the music with rhythmic strumming.

What stands out about Grace and makes it a staple in rock music history is Buckley’s uncanny, natural vocal ability. In addition to his uncommonly vast range, Buckley’s voice can take on many different characters. Buckley constantly displays the many sides of his buttery tenor. Whether he is belting out rock anthems (“Eternal Life”), crooning sensual ballads (“Last Goodbye”), or utilizing his eerie, flawless falsetto (“Corpus Christi Carol”), Buckley engages the listener completely.

Grace brings forth a sound that takes aspects from multiple genres and integrates them into one tangible masterpiece. From the soothing vibrato of his father, Tim Buckley, to the lingering phrasing of Robert Plant, Buckley’s voice can be seen as a melting pot of talent. The product of the different inspirations is a powerful and ethereal sound that escapes Buckley’s lips in a haunting tone.

With nearly a third of the songs on Grace being covers, it is easy to point the finger at Buckley for having such a high number of songs (three) not written by him. After listening to the songs, however, it is impossible to associate Buckley with being unoriginal or uncreative. While he may not have written the words or root melodies, Buckley takes the songs, “Lilac Wine”, “Corpus Christi Carol”, and “Hallelujah” and transcends them beyond their original versions.

If someone were to listen to Grace and was asked to discern which three songs weren’t originally written by Buckley, it would be very difficult, perhaps with the exception of “Corpus Christi Carol,” a multi-century old English hymn. Any points lost for the covers can’t be taken off with too much venom, due to the sheer, raw conviction with which Buckley sings them.

Indeed, Grace has track after track that compels the listener to fall in love with Buckley’s vulnerable delivery of depressing lyrics. The words Buckley utters are achingly relatable, yet transcendent. Much like his distinct, awe-inducing voice, his lyrics don’t seem like they come from an average human being. In “Eternal Life” Buckley belts with confidence, “And as your fantasies are broken in two. Did you really think this bloody road would pave the way for you?” It isn’t hard to draw meaning out of what he’s saying. Buckley isn’t some vague poet. Instead, the scenarios he paints with his voice and words make him seem like a road-worn traveler with a broken heart.

Along with the reverberating clean guitars producing ambient background sounds and ringing out minor chords, Buckley’s vocal components project a feeling of mystery. In a recording era right before the digital age of the 21st century, where analog recording was still the primary means of recording. Grace doesn’t fall victim to any of the sloppiness that can result from pure analog recording. The record’s production is crisp, from the subtle buzzing of the bass to the acute shrill of Buckley’s falsetto. The atmospheric sounds from tremolo picking and using slides on guitars fill the emptiness that would have been pressing if left alone. Between the tight production and beautiful melodies, Grace is an album that will forever stimulate the hearts of listeners.

The first thing that must be mentioned when talking about Jeff Buckley is his sweet, irresistible tone that many try to replicate. Buckley’s influential and impressive contrast of delicate and powerhouse vocals can be seen in artists like Thom Yorke (Radiohead) and Matt Bellamy (Muse).

In a showcase of his truly unique voice, Grace’s title track, “Grace” lays out his whole spectrum of vocal ability. He begins the song by singing in a quivering voice, “There’s the moon asking to stay. Long enough for the clouds to fly me away,” but by the time the bridge rolls around he cries out, “Wait in the fire. Wait in the fire” over and over, while jumping from falsetto to his chest voice, which is nearly as high in pitch. “Grace” maintains some song structure, but eventually gives way into a jam session of sorts for Buckley to skillfully throw his voice all over the place.

The song that generated the most talk for Buckley, and arguably propelled him into the fame he received, was his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Originally released a decade before Grace, “Hallelujah” deserves every beam of spotlight that it received.

Buckley, following John Cale’s arrangement of the song, took Cohen’s dark and nearly spoken tune and transformed it into one of the greatest covers of all time. From the exhale of breath at the opening to the drawn out falsetto at the end, the song seizes the ear and emotion of the listener. Buckley mutters the verses with delicacy, lingering here and there. As he sings, he subtly slips into a heart wrenching falsetto. Beauty permeates throughout the entire song. In the last verse, as the guitar nears the end of its progression, Buckley’s voice crescendos and then backs off as he coos “hallelujah” a few times.

Then, just as you’re entranced by the softness created, Buckley lets out a resounding “hallelujah” that pierces the fragile atmosphere. Buckley may not have written the words, but it would be very difficult to say that he didn’t make “Hallelujah” as ardent and original as any other track on the album.

All of this isn’t to detract from Buckley’s other songs on the album that he personally wrote. “Last Goodbye” is a sexy love song, complete with soaring strings and floating vocals that bounce everywhere.

Other highlights include, “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” a similarly moving ballad, but with heavier words. Lyrically, it’s one of the best on the album. The mournful tune has Buckley reflecting on the past, and looking bleakly to the future. You can hear the desperation for hope as he sings, “Too young to hold on. And too old to just break free and run.”

Then there is “Eternal Life,” easily the heaviest song on the album. Sounding like a hybrid from 70s and 80s rock anthems, Buckley spits with a seldom-seen aggression, “All I want to do is love everyone.”

Although it is clear in hindsight how great an album Grace is, its success wasn’t immediate. While it did get to #05 on Billboard’s Heatseekers, in the Billboard 200 it couldn’t get past 149. The aforementioned song, “Last Goodbye,” reached 19 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart.

It wasn’t until after Buckley’s untimely death in May of 1997 that Grace accumulated major accolades.

In 2003, Rolling Stone had Grace as #303 on its “500 Greatest Albums” list. Even in 2008, Buckley’s music is surviving. After re-exposure to “Hallelujah” from a contestant performing it on The X-Factor, Buckley’s version climbed its way up to the #01 spot of Billboard’s digital downloads. Buckley may not be around to create any more sadness-filled rock wonders, but Grace will continue to inspire and evoke the deepest emotions from its listeners.

Next Steps
In the years that followed Grace‘s release, Buckley toured extensively throughout the U.S., Europe, Australia and Japan, as well as some low-key solo shows.

On May 29, 1997, Buckley tragically drowned in Memphis, TN. Although he had sporadically been recording, his sudden death snubbed any hopes of a second full-length studio LP. Prior to Grace, Buckley had released Live at Sin-é, a live EP of him and his guitar performing four songs, including two that made it onto Grace, a Van Morrison cover, and a song sung partially in French. Buckley’s death didn’t bring an end to his music, however.

In 2003 Columbia Records put out an expanded version of Live at Sin-é, entitled Live at Sin-é: Legacy Edition, which boasted 34 tracks. In 1998, Sketches for My Sweetheart The Drunk, an album containing much of his recorded material between Grace and his death, was released. In addition to the incomplete record, live albums, compilations with rarities, and documentaries began to surface as time passed. The most recent, a package that includes studio songs, live performances and a film chronicling Buckley’s career, boasts over three hours of content.

Buckley was a heavyhearted artist that expressed his qualms through melodic, soothing rock. Grace was an outstanding record that was brimming with potential. The poignant songs set Buckley up to be not only a sex symbol of the late 20th century, but also a prominent figure in the ultra-sensitive rock scene.

Like many artists before him, including his father, Buckley’s premature death deprived the world from the plethora of possibilities that could have been produced. Buckley won’t be forgotten, though. His creeping tone lives on in many alternative artists today. In Radiohead’s single “Fake Plastic Trees,” which they recorded after seeing him performing in London, you can hear Buckley’s creepy timbre in Thom Yorke’s voice.

Buckley’s unmistakable voice, which Rolling Stone ranked as being #39 of “The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time” (released in 2008), will continually sought to be simulated. The respect and admiration that has been built around Grace and Buckley’s soulful vocals doesn’t seem like it will ever cease to exist.

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Jeff Buckley Grace | | Leave a comment

Danger Mouse The Grey Album (2004)


Remix albums rarely have purely noble intentions. From underground promotional vehicles to hobbyist experiments for props at local watering holes, the concept of backing familiar voices with unexpected surroundings had been all but lost to simpler production clinics with high profile guests.

That is, until Danger Mouse (best known for his work with Jemini and Sage Francis) turned a color inference into an underground phenomenon with his bootleg conceptual assault, The Grey Album, a remix album that pairs the vocals of Jay-Z’s Black Album with The Beatles’ legendary White Album.

By the most basic rules of the homemade remix, the record works: The vocals are on beat, pauses are natural, and the background always works thematically with the lyrics. In these more technical areas, the record effectively succeeds. But the most exciting part of any remix project is hearing whether or not the producer can save your least favorite songs, and this is clearly where DM shines. “Moment of Clarity” was the kind of awkwardly misplaced synthetic emotion expected from posthumous Tupac records.

Here, however, it’s a stomping guitar monster, with John Lennon’s chopped vocals croaking like one of its victims. And while the original “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” sounded like Timbo going through the motions (if he decided to morph into The Neptunes for a day), Danger Mouse’s rendition is like Prefuse 73 meeting David Banner, arguing chops over handclaps and eventually finding middle ground through a second strangulation of Mr. Lennon.

Of course, it isn’t all so progressive. Similar to the fates of “December 4th” and “Change Clothes”, “What More Can I Say” works on the tone it develops, but ultimately ends up too simple to hold attention. “My 1st Song” is enjoyable for the harsh drums that DM tracks and the closing statements that have Jay-Z doing the Charleston over “Cry Baby Cry”. Of course, Shawn Carter’s elastic speed-rap is near impossible to capture, as evidenced by the distracting guitar-crashing effect which closes off every few couplets. Most glaringly, no remix attempt is made on “The Threat”, arguably Jay-Z’s hardest performance on The Black Album, while “Lucifer” is sacrificed at the altar of conceptualism: DM simply inverts a couple Jigga vocals, chops up vocals and pianos, and inserts a bass riff and orchestral bits from “I’m So Tired” and “Revolution 9”.

Though DM’s takes are obviously more rock-centric than the original Jay-Z tracks, they still manage to be undeniably in tune with the spirit of hip-hop. “PSA” is turned from a menacing spin on a Black Moon standard to woodland crunk with rings of Robin Hood flute, acoustic finger flicking and truncated outbursts from George Harrison. And “99 Problems” turns the obvious rock nod into a slightly more pronounced clinic in “Helter Skelter” headbanging, with panning walls of guitar sound and a chugging main riff that, in this context, reminds me of Kool Keith’s “I’m Destructive”.

Danger Mouse was recently issued a cease-and-desist by EMI regarding this project’s Beatle-sampling. While he insists the record was intended only as a promotional item, 3,000 copies are already in circulation, and one can’t help but feel the loom of a forthcoming lawsuit. So the question now is, was the creative payoff of this project worth the possibilities of this potential worst-case-scenario? Well: While The Grey Album is truly one of the more interesting pirate mashups ever done, it ultimately fails at the hands of perfectionism with several pieces sounding rushed to beat some other knucklehead to his clever idea.

Additionally, the missing songs and occasionally poor tracking means the project take a few hits. Still, it’s stronger than it ought to be given the disparity between the two artists, and as far as raw experimentation goes, it further proves DM as a wildly imaginative producer. Even taken out of the context of listenability, The Grey Album will end up the trivia answer we’ll always love to submit.

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Danger Mouse The Grey Album | | Leave a comment

The Beatles Love (2006)


John Lennon’s “Glass Onion”, a daffy throwaway from the Beatles’ self-titled album, isn’t among the band’s best songs. But a snippet fits very nicely in the third position on Love, the Beatles catalog remix album and Cirque de Soleil soundtrack created by George Martin and his son Giles. After an angelic “Because”– a capella, but here fluffed up with bird songs– there’s the “A Hard Days Night” chord into Ringo’s drum solo on “The End”, which then fades into “Get Back”.

“Glass Onion” was Lennon having fun with the Beatles myth, referencing his earlier songs and mocking the tendency to “decode” them that would eventually get way out of hand when Beach Boys pal and “Never Learn Not to Love” composer Charles Manson sent his minions into Beverly Hills to commit mass murder. “Glass Onion” was Lennon’s attempt– on the fly, while the band was at its peak– at recontextualizing his Beatles work, to remind us all that music is supposed to be fun. The joker was laughing with us, jabbing an elbow in our sides to say, “Hey, we’re just a pop band here, folks.”

That’s a good thing to keep in mind with the Beatles. They were just a pop band, even if they were possibly the greatest entity ever to fit that particular classification. The Beatles were so good that they’re not very interesting to talk about– it’s like listening to someone drone on about the Grand Canyon. No other band has generated as much dull commentary, even as the music remains unimpeachable.

They’re certainly the best band I almost never listen to. I’m guessing I share this with a lot of music obsessives; the Beatles’ music has been so thoroughly absorbed into our consciousness that we can play the songs in our heads any time we like. Which is why the idea of someone doing something new with the catalog– mixing and matching different songs, blending the whole thing into an epic suite– is potentially exciting. Any attempt to fiddle with this music is like long-distance brain surgery, toying with our collective memory with the hope of creating something new.

Listening to Love I’m reminded first of a few artists that took from the Beatles without their permission, and how illicit beginnings gave their samples an extra hit of fun. There’s the entire Danger Mouse/Jay-Z mashup The Grey Album, of course, but I’m thinking of smaller details. When Ringo Starr’s solo from “The End” appears early here I go immediately to Jason Forrest’s “Ten Amazing Years”, not Abbey Road. The swirl of strings from “Good Night” stitched here to Ringo’s “Octopus’s Garden” brings to mind Ekkehard Ehlers’ drawn-out loop of the same phrase that comprises the entirety of one side of “Ekkehard Ehlers Plays John Cassavetes”. Having all the mixes band-sanctioned loses a little something. Paul McCartney is said to have heard Love and remarked that he wished it went a bit further out. And it’s hard not to agree, especially for people used to hearing mash-ups and guerilla sonic deconstruction via laptop. How badly do you want Yamatsuka Eye to do a Rebore Vol. 0 on this material?

Really, the mashed-up bits here are just a seasoning, the occasional jarring effect to remind us that we’re not just sitting around listening to Beatles records. Who knew that the backing track for “Drive My Car” fit perfectly over verses from “The Word” and “What You’re Doing”? The a capella “Sun King” sounds great backward on “Gnik Nus” leading beautifully into “Something” and doesn’t contain any hidden messages beyond the one conveyed by the opening “Because”– that the Beatles were great singers. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” seems a natural soundtrack for tumbling acrobats, and the coda to “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” sounds like it was made for this project.

As the album wears on, the songs get “bigger” and are also made to stand on their own, without the mix trickery. But they also suffer from truncation. It’s great to hear a round of the “Hey Jude”‘s epic chorus with just voice and drums, but the song means so much less at four minutes than it does at seven, with a full verse cut and the final fade happening earlier. I will say that hearing it pulled apart finally confirms that Beta Band’s “Dry the Rain” steals from it almost completely, one instrument after another.

It seems impossible to follow the final chord of “A Day in the Life”, but the Martins are just closing the door on the darker, artier aspect of the Beatles, letting the uplifting pop band carry the day during the album’s final section. The trimmed “Hey Jude”, the reprise of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (let’s face it– not great, but included because of all the showbiz connotations) and then closing with “All You Need Is Love”.

What seems to consume people most about this record is the sound of the thing, just how beautifully the original material was recorded and how great it comes over on a purely sonic level. The art of recording a rock band, it seems, reached its zenith in the late 1960s. In terms of capturing guitar, bass, drums, and voice, nothing since– no matter how many tracks– sounds as pure and lovely as what the Beatles did at Abbey Road studios. Love is turning everyone into an audiophile, then, which means it’s making younger people a little older. And it’s also a mashup remix, which means it’s making older people a little younger. They were just a pop band, yes, but if anyone can bring all these music fans together under one tent, it’s the Beatles. Which is what Love is ultimately all about.

January 7, 2014 Posted by | The Beatles Love | | Leave a comment

Little Feat Hotcakes And Outtakes (2000)


The greatest American rock band, if such a beast can be captured, wasn’t The Doors—Morrison’s putrid poetry hasn’t aged well, and wasn’t very good to start with, come to think of it. Creedence Clearwater Revival is in the running, but they really weren’t a rock band, being remembered instead for the incredible run of Top 10 singles Fogerty cranked out. Great stuff.

Nope, it really comes down to a battle between two bands—the original line-up of the Band, and Little Feat, circa 1970-1981. Considering that a large part of the Band were Canadian, it’s not a big stretch to remove them from consideration entirely, which, since I’m the monkey with a typewriter at the moment, I will do. That leaves us with Lowell George and his band of merry men, Little Feat.

The Feat played boogie music, which is as complete a statement as “Raymond Chandler wrote mysteries”. Complete, and completely lacking. George created music that while appearing simple and straightforward on the surface (much like the slow moving duck that is placid above the water and paddling like hellfire underneath) was actually a complex and engaging brew of country, funk and rock that even at it’s most basic—such as the trucker anthem “Willin’”—is a delicately crafted arrangement of guitar, piano and chorus that has endured the decades to become one of those songs everyone knows. How many people can lay claim to that? Hell, George did it so often, and with such bodacious skill that he made it look too damn easy. Take “Sailin’ Shoes”. How can a song that sounds like a Sunday morning Primitive Baptist church Gospel sing along contain the phrase “Lady in a turban and a cocaine tree”—and what in the hell is a cocaine tree? Or the hapless newlywed of “Dixie Chicken” that realizes, far too late, of his ruination at the hands of a Southern Belle.

Lowell George was a masterful slide guitarist, an unconventional, but starkly passionate vocalist and a dynamic songwriter and producer. But more than all of these talents—more talents than generally exist in a single band, much less a singular man—was his talent as a storyteller. His characters feel real because they ARE real—from “Easy to Slip” or “Cold, Cold, Cold” to the autobiographical “Rock and Roll Doctor”, George created characters and situations that rival the best fiction of Faulkner. We’ve all known a “Fat Man in the Bathtub” with the blues, shared drinks while singing “Dixie Chicken” or hummed the chorus of “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” when we find ourselves in a jam.

The rest of Feat, Paul Barrere on guitar, Bill Payne on keyboards, bassist Kenny Gradney, Richie Hayward on drums and Sam Clayton on percussion fleshed out Lowell’s stumbling rhythms and fractured time signatures and created a seamless rock and roll orchestra—a sound so full that live it could sound like a perfectly in tune freight train. Listen to the live document “Waiting for Columbus” to get a glimpse of what is occurring behind George’s vocals. Pianos and guitars play hide and seek with Gradney’s impertinent bass lines, and the interplay of drums and percussion sound as if one human had four arms and at least three feet. Scary stuff, when you realize just how easily they were able to turn it on-and sad at the same time, when you lament just how rare it all was, and how utterly vain an attempt it is to try and recapture it.

Which, unfortunately, the band has tried to do. From 1988 on the remaining members of a once great band have created slick, credible boogie music, which is about as kin to the art of Lowell George as a Yugo is to the creations of Benz and Ferrari. Still, this version of the band is only represented on one disc out of four, and the final disc contains unreleased George-era Feat, and even some cuts from before the days of the band. The packaging of the set is first rate, with a 75-page book that examines the life and times of one of the great ones.

Lowell George danced away into the twilight far too early, leaving a decade of classic Feat records and a single solo release (1979’s “Thanks I’ll Eat It Here”) to remind us of the powerful force one man with a vision, a guitar and a socket wrench can create. Or to quote the man himself: “If you wanna feel real nice / Just ask the Rock and Roll Doctor’s advice”. Truer words never spoken.

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Little Feat Hotcakes And Outtakes | | Leave a comment